No place affords a more striking conviction of the vanity of human hopes than a public library.
In the beginning was the vanity publisher, the small operators that catered for those people who wanted something to lodge on their shelf and think “I did that”. Perhaps that remains a motivation for some self published authors but I suspect that the vast majority have either credible literary aims or a pure commercial instinct behind their need to see their work out there in the world. I’ve blogged previously about whether you need a print version of your book and received some tweets, emails and posts arguing pretty cogently for both positions. Let’s assume you do want a print version out there, where do you go?
The obvious answer is CreateSpace, the publishing arm of the corporate leviathan – Amazon. When I started out with Wings of Contrition I had a desultory look around the net and concluded that it was pretty much my only viable option. I was wrong and probably too hasty. At that point I hadn’t spent enough time talking to other writers and authors and hanging on excellent sites like LibraryThing and GoodReads. There are alternatives and some of them knock CreateSpace into a cocked hat.
First though, my experience with CreateSpace was pretty good. There are various tiered options you can select depending on how much cash you want to throw at the book and how much support you realistically need. In theory you can do it all for free as Amazon will take a cut from the print sale price. In reality though, you’ll need some help somewhere unless you happen to be an accomplished designer, proofreader, typesetter, marketer as well as a mighty fine author. I didn’t use their editing services but I’ve had good reports of that from other writers so if you haven’t been lucky enough to find a professional editor that is something worth considering. It’ll cost you a few hundred pounds and revisions take place via email and phone calls but if you can work in that way, it is an affordable way to make sure that you are really are print ready. I did use them for internal layout of my book, primarily because the restrictions on Amazon for Kindle and for print are pretty tight. Trying to do proper print layouts in a rickety version of Word is like living in some awful dystopian dimension – the 7 circle of hell. So, unless you have done it before I’d recommend their internal design package, its reasonably cheap.
I’ve dealt with cover design previously and if you’ve got to print stage without a cover, then definitely use CreateSpace’s cover design service. Again, this is tiered in pricing but some of the mid-range packages offer a pretty good service, provided you are willing to either use a whole image as the background layer to your book or are prepared to confine yourself to a couple of primary colours. If you google Createspace covers you’ll see a fairly decent range. The final elements of the CreateSpace package are around publicity. They’ll do you a blurb for your back cover, write a press release and for the princely sum of around £3000 even conduct your marketing for you. Unless you are complete ingenue and don’t know your twitter from your GoodReads, I’d avoid this element of the package. After all, if you have managed to write a book, you should be more than capable of drafting a blurb and even a press release. Yes, you won’t benefit from getting your release sent to Amazon’s exhaustive list of press contacts but I suspect almost all of these communiques are immediately binned by most local newspapers in any case. You’ll save yourself a considerable amount too – the only probably being that you’ll then have to do your own marketing, which is in all honesty the biggest pain of self publishing.
All in all then, CreateSpace offer a pretty decent mid-range service and I suspect publishing via that platform may help you a bit on the Amazon store itself. Obviously the Amazon algorithms are known only to a few people avoiding tax in the Cayman islands but it’d be in their interests to promote their own books – the margins are bigger – so you may get a little fillip that way. If you don’t know what you are doing, like I didn’t, it is a simple and intuitive way to do things and I liked the fact that if I struggled with something that I could add it to my package at a later date. If you are American I’d definitely go with CreateSpace, their size and scale make them massively cheaper than the competition. Over here, in Europe, there are possibly better options though and you don’t have to explain English spellings to an American editor!
So who else is out there? Well this is an excellent summary: The complete guide to publishing on demand
I’ve not used any of the other services but I’ve talked to hundreds of authors online and in real life and there just isn’t any real consensus. A lot of European authors prefer Lulu because they produce high volumes of European formats, especially useful if you include a lot of images. For the most cost conscious author, Virtual Bookworm and Skoobe Books are really effective solutions and will usually give you far lower print on demand per unit prices than the bigger players. This is an important distinction if you are going for a niche market and sales are likely to be relatively modest. For pure e-book authors Smashwords and Jottify are excellent and highly rated by the people that use them. One major area of difference where Amazon seem to be ahead of the game is in reporting tools. You will want to track your sales and it seems that Amazon, because of its role as a major seller, do this much better than the competitors. If you are going to be sat on a website watching the numbers rise slowly, CreateSpace is probably for you.
All in all then, Amazon worked for me. Everyone is different and I know that some will have a moral objection to dealing with an organisation like that though but before you plump for a smaller player, check the online forums and check out sites like GoodReads to see what others think.